Imagine being a sports fan looking forward to an evening of live coverage on the radio of your team playing a game and instead of just getting the coverage of the game you’re interested in, you hear coverage of multiple games, with sportscasters taking turns sentence by sentence, reporting on the game they’re witnessing.
Not only do you hear one sentence from sportscaster A, one from sportscaster B, one from sportscaster C (and then B, C, A, A, C, B, A) but there are also no indications what snippets belongs to what games.
Such an interjection of meaningful but extraneous sound bites would be worse than static—not only do you get interrupted while following the game you’re interested in, your brain also has to interpret which messages are relevant and which ones are not.
Such a set up would be the worst possible way to use radio. We can intuitively understand that, because radio is such a familiar medium that we know how it’s supposed to work.
With new platforms, however, we don’t have that prior knowledge, and so our first uses are bound to be ill-advised, incomplete or otherwise suboptimal. Blindfolded by our lack of experience, we have no choice but to stumble around until we find a way through.
We may smart when we hurt our metaphorical shins bumping into unforeseen obstacles, but the mistakes we make are exactly what makes us understand where to go.
Twitter at Conferences
I was happy to see NASW embrace Twitter, and noticed a few things that worked, and a few things that can be improved upon. Both help us gain understanding of Twitter’s strengths and limitations, but the mistakes are perhaps the most useful.
In addition, it’s worth noting that Twitter works best if a majority or at least a substantial subset of participants uses a laptop during the sessions. For now, pen and paper is still surprisingly popular among journalists and writers (perhaps for good reason—maybe they can pay better attention than those of us tweeting).
Using one hashtag (#sciwri08) for covering multiple, simultaneous workshops
Problem: Leads to a cacophony of voices (similar to radio example above)
Solution: Use a unique hashtag for each workshop
Using the same hashtag for covering sessions as for general comments on the conference.
Problem: Tweets about the conference or for communicating with fellow participants get lost in a flood of session coverage.
Solution: Use a unique hashtag for tweets related to the conference, not the sessions
Using Twitter just as a coverage tool
Problem: Many writers are introverts and may not get up to ask questions after a lecture; not incorporating Twitter comments and questions misses a chance to broaden the discussion.
Solution: Have someone do a round-up of the most relevant tweets at the end of the lecture and before the question period; the same person could pick a few relevant questions to ask the speaker before opening the floor for in-person questions at the mike.
Using Twitter in isolation
Problem: Twitter is not a good platform for fostering communication between subsets of participants (e.g. health writers, health editors, health Public Information Officers) who don’t already know each other prior to the conference
Solution: Supplement Twitter with social networking platforms (like Ning). Such online networking can facilitate personal networking by virtually introducing participants to other people in their field and providing an open platform for communication. An added plus: social networks can persist after the conference and provide a communication channel outside of the conference. (This is not a substitute for the actual conference; on the contrary, face-to-face networking will be facilitated and augmented by this initial online contact, which makes that personal contact even more valuable and makes the conference even more important to attend.) In addition to social networks, a ratings system would provide valuable feedback to the organizers and presenters on the sessions, and an ability to comment on the presentations in forums would give an opportunity to offer additional insights and point participants to resources (comments can be non-anonymous to increase quality.)
What Works Well:
· Having a designated Tweeter for each session helps avoid multiple people transcribing the same comments from the speaker and cuts down on duplication. This frees up everyone else who’s tweeting to focus on providing additional resources or insights relevant to the lecture.
· Twitter as a live transcription of what’s being said (and commented on) at a conference.
· I set up MSNHealthEditor for communicating with current and potential health writers. I will use this alias to put out calls for pitches on specific topics. I’ve also set up an MSNHealthTwitter feed, which can be used by our readers to follow our original content; but it’s also a good way for writers to see what types of original content we are publishing. I’ve been able to use these two aliases to communicate with writers and fellow editors at the conference.
· There needs to be an application that can archive all tweets for a certain hashtag in a given time period and capture them in chronological order. That would create a readable transcription of sessions that would be easy to read for those that missed the workshop.
· When you’re not attending a session, but want to follow a live twitter feed from your hotel, it’d be nice to have a “Twitter Radio” that you could set for a specific hashtag, translating tweets into voice.
There are hundreds of Twitter apps out there, but I haven’t yet seen one that can do either of these things.